One of the most encouraging insights to come out of health research is that a little exercise goes a long way to boosting your lifespan. Even more encouraging is the impact walking can have on your overall health. The low-intensity exercise can build stamina, burn excess calories and make your heart healthier, notes the NHS.
Research published last year suggests these benefits accrue the more steps you do.
Findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests it is not the intensity but the number of steps taken each day that provides the most benefits.
The research was a collaborative effort between the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) – both parts of the National Institutes of Health – as well as from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“While we knew physical activity is good for you, we didn’t know how many steps per day you need to take to lower your mortality risk or whether stepping at a higher intensity makes a difference,” said Pedro Saint-Maurice, Ph.D., of NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, first author of the study.
The researchers calculated associations between mortality and step number and intensity after adjustment for demographic and behavioural risk factors, body mass index, and health status at the start of the study.
BMI is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out if your weight is healthy.
What did the researchers find out?
They found that, compared with taking 4,000 steps per day, a number considered to be low for adults, taking 8,000 steps per day was associated with a 51 percent lower risk for all-cause mortality (or death from all causes).
Taking 12,000 steps per day was associated with a 65 percent lower risk compared with taking 4,000 steps.
In contrast, the authors saw no association between step intensity and risk of death after accounting for the total number of steps taken per day.
“At NIA, we’ve long studied how exercise is important for older adults, and it’s good to see further evidence from a large study with a broad sample that the main thing is to get moving for better overall health as we age,” said Eric Shiroma, Ph.D., a co-author and NIA Intramural Research Program scientist.
It is important to note that the study was observational and therefore cannot prove causality.
Nevertheless, their findings confirm the importance of staying active and underscore the dangers posed by leading a sedentary lifestyle.
How to increase your daily step count
The easiest way to walk more is to make walking a habit.
“Think of ways to include walking in your daily routine,” advises the NHS.
The health body recommends trying the following:
- Walking part of your journey to work
- Walking to the shops
- Using the stairs instead of the lift
- Leaving the car behind for short journeys
- Walking the kids to school
- Doing a regular walk with a friend
- Going for a stroll with family or friends after dinner.
It adds: “Walking while listening to music or a podcast can take your mind off the effort.”